Salt Lake City Council listens to comments on e-scooter enforcement

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Salt Lake City Council is moving forward with an ordinance regulating electric scooters.

E-scooters don’t appear to be whipping up the same fervor seen last summer – the issue being eclipsed by a pandemic and protests against police violence. But the Salt Lake City Council is moving forward with an ordinance regulating the devices.

On Tuesday night, council members and Mayor Erin Mendenhall listened to a half-dozen comments about its proposed “dockless shared mobility” regulations. A few residents asked for visible enforcement of e-scooter rules to dissuade riders from using sidewalks and engaging in unsafe practices. A handful more balked at that idea and called for law enforcement reform, echoing demands to defund the police made at other City Council meetings in the past few weeks.

Downtown homeowner Margo Beecroft said for the past two years, she has had “a front-row seat to scooters behaving badly.”

“I still do not see a solution to waking up the public and getting them off the sidewalks,” Beecroft said.

E-scooters first started appearing on Salt Lake City sidewalks and streets in the summer of 2018. They quickly became controversial, with pedestrians fearing for their safety as the scooters whizzed by at speeds of up to 15 mph. Others became annoyed when users dumped the dockless devices on parking strips and in front of building entrances. One hospital saw a 160% increase in scooter-related injuries the same year companies introduced their fleets to the city.

Efforts to outright ban the devices from all city sidewalks were foiled when the Utah Legislature passed a bill requiring e-scooters to be regulated similarly to bicycles.

That means the scooters aren’t allowed on sidewalks downtown, but residents like Beecroft want to see more enforcement.

“Live police officers or parking officials or security figures wearing badges and uniforms to stop the scooters, issue tickets [and] move riders off the sidewalks,” Beecroft said, adding that she wants the e-scooter companies to pay for enforcement.

In past meetings, the City Council has considered charging companies an annual fee of $100 or more per scooter, using the revenue to hire an e-scooter program director and, possibly, a third party to conduct enforcement. Council members have also floated the idea of tapping parking enforcement to issue citations for scooter riders.

The proposed ordinance creates a framework for the council to potentially create a competitive bidding process for scooter vendors and to establish a fee schedule.

Resident Gabbi Lemanski said she does not want to see any of those funds going to Salt Lake City Police.

“I think there needs to be clear, established rules for the scooters and I think the companies that make them need to be held responsible,” Lemanski said, “but I definitely don’t want to see more police officers trying to track offenders down.”

She noted the police’s forceful response to a July 9 protest at the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office.

Representatives from two of the city’s four e-scooter vendors also presented their thoughts on the ordinance.

Two spokespersons from Spin spoke in support of the regulations, highlighting their efforts to educate riders about sidewalk rules and safety.

A spokeswoman for Lime said the company generally supported the ordinance but disagreed with a fixed, per-device fee. Instead, the company proposed a 10-cent per-trip fee that vendors would collect and pay to the city monthly or quarterly.

In past meetings, City Council staff explained that a per-trip fee would make revenue for an e-scooter program less reliable, especially in cases like a global pandemic that cause ridership to suddenly drop.

The council will hold another public comment period on its e-scooter ordinance on Tuesday, Aug. 11. City Council members are tentatively scheduled to vote on the regulations that evening.